waterboarding and other unnecessary evils

This picture is from Wikipedia, but the original is on display at Tuol Sleng in Phnom Penh. I happened to see it in 2004. Not the waterboarding in question but it's a good contrast given the US position on Pol Pot's regime.

On Friday The Washington Post ran an editorial depicting the current US administration's use of torture during the course of interrogations where the CIA went on record that they've resorted to this form of torture but only in certain instances in the past. I don't know about you, but that seems like a line that has no business being crossed.

The current administration seems to think there are laws, and then there are laws. There are laws that apply to the world, and laws that apply to them. There are ways to treat people, and then there are ways they treat people.

And it begs the question: what the hell is going on here?

In case it's unclear, Waterboarding is a form of torture that consists of immobilizing a person on his or her back, with the head inclined downward, and pouring water over the face and into the breathing passages. Through forced suffocation and inhalation of water, the subject experiences the process of drowning in a controlled environment and is made to believe that death is imminent. In contrast to merely submerging the head face-forward, waterboarding almost immediately elicits the gag reflex. Although waterboarding can be performed in ways that leave no lasting physical damage, it carries the risks of extreme pain, damage to the lungs, brain damage caused by oxygen deprivation, injuries (including broken bones) due to struggling against restraints, and even death. The psychological effects on victims of waterboarding can last for years after the procedure. (Wikipedia)

And even average citizens seem somewhat conflicted about whether or not waterboarding is torture. In a telephone poll of 1,024 American adults by the CNN/Opinion Research Corp. in early November 2007 about whether they considered waterboarding torture, 69 percent of respondents said that waterboarding was torture while 29 percent of respondants said it was not. In addition, 58 percent of those polled stated that they did not think that the U.S. government should be allowed to use this procedure against suspected terrorists as a method of interrogation.

But what's legal? The United Nations Convention Against Torture has agreed there is no legal exception for waterboarding and the US participates on the Committee Against Torture. But it seems that everyone's still looking for a loophole. Because although the Pentagon's written policy prohibits cruel or inhumane treatment domestically or in other countries, our Secretary of Defense can approve case-by-case exceptions. And somehow we've decided waterboarding sometimes falls into this category.

Press TV recently reported that The United Nations' torture investigator has slammed the White House for defending the use of waterboarding as an interrogation method. Manfred Nowak, the UN's special rapporteur on torture, also urged the US to give up its defense of "unjustifiable" methods. "This is absolutely unacceptable under international human rights law," Nowak said. "Time has come that the government will actually acknowledge that they did something wrong and not continue trying to justify what is unjustifiable." The comments came a day after the Bush administration acknowledged publicly for the first time that waterboarding was used by US government questioners on three terror suspects. Testifying before Congress, CIA Director Michael Hayden said the suspects were waterboarded in 2002 and 2003. The White House on Wednesday defended the use of waterboarding, saying it is legal.

And legal sidestepping aside, what's moral? I am pleased to see that all three frontrunners for the Presidency oppose the use of torture. But it's too little, too late. We have allowed an administration to make it's own rules, to ignore international policies, and to hide this information from it's people. And why did they hide it? Because just like everything else they've misled the general public about, it's wrong and they know it. And they do not care what we think.

Change is coming. But it begs the question: is it too late? All the more reason to support a candidate who does not and will not support waterboarding and war. This just isn't funny anymore. The Republicans have had their shot. It's time for change.

Cross posted at MOMOcrats